As a Caravan of Central Americans March Towards The US-Mexico Border in Hopes of Claiming Asylum, Trump Pressures Congress to Act On Immigration

Will this help spur much needed immigration reform?

On March 30th, Adolfo Flores reported that a caravan of at least 1200 Central Americans were walking north through Mexico in search of better living and working conditions.

According to Flores’ article on Buzzfeed, many of the migrants’ destination is the United States. “For five days now hundreds of Central Americans — children, women, and men, most of them from Honduras — have boldly crossed immigration checkpoints, military bases, and police in a desperate, sometimes chaotic march toward the United States,” he said.

When the migrants get to the US’ southern border, some plan to attempt to cross illegally, while others are hoping to qualify as refugees and claim asylum. According to Flores, “About 80% of them are from Honduras. Many said they are fleeing poverty, but also political unrest and violence that followed the swearing in of Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández after a highly contested election last year. The group often breaks into chants of 'out with JOH.' They also chant 'we aren't immigrants, we're international workers' and 'the people united will never be defeated.'"

On Monday night, April 2nd, Mexico’s National Institute of Immigration said that “it plans by Wednesday to disband a caravan of hundreds of Central American migrants that has been traveling through Mexico for nine days. Caravan organizers said, however, they expect at least some of the migrants to continue north to the US border. They estimate that most of them will seek asylum or some type of protection in Mexico or the US.”

Under current US immigration law, any non-citizen who meets the definition of “refugee” and is already in the United States or is seeking admission to the US at a port of entry, and can pass security checks, may qualify for asylum status and be allowed to remain in the US legally. A refugee is defined in section 101(a)(42) of the Immigration and Nationality Act as “any person who is outside any country of such person's nationality or, in the case of a person having no nationality, is outside any country in which such  person last habitually resided, and who is unable or unwilling to return to, and  is unable or unwilling to avail himself or herself of the protection of, that  country because of persecution or a well-founded fear of persecution on account  of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.”

It will be up to immigration judges to determine whether or not individual members of the caravan meet these eligibility requirements for asylum.

On April 1st and 2nd, President Trump reacted to the news of this traveling caravan through tweets, displaying his frustration at Congress’ failure to reach a compromise that would have legalized DACA and adequately funded increased border security and the wall. In a series of tweets, the president blamed Democrats for not doing a good enough job in helping to secure the US’ southern border, and suggested exercising the Senate’s nuclear option to force border security and interior immigration enforcement legislation through Congress. 

The president said, in a series of tweets, “Border Patrol Agents are not allowed to properly do their job at the Border because of ridiculous liberal (Democrat) laws like Catch & Release. Getting more dangerous. 'Caravans' coming. Republicans must go to Nuclear Option to pass tough laws NOW. NO MORE DACA DEAL!... Congress must immediately pass Border Legislation, use Nuclear Option if necessary, to stop the massive inflow of Drugs and People. Border Patrol Agents (and ICE) are GREAT, but the weak Dem laws don’t allow them to do their job. Act now Congress, our country is being stolen!... DACA is dead because the Democrats didn’t care or act, and now everyone wants to get onto the DACA bandwagon... No longer works. Must build Wall and secure our borders with proper Border legislation.”

The catch and release Trump is referring to is an immigration policy that resulted from the Zadvydas v. Davis ruling by the Supreme Court in 2001. Due to the court’s ruling that illegal immigrants awaiting deportation hearings cannot be held for longer than 60 days unless they meet special circumstances such as posing danger to the public or substantial flight risk, an extremely inefficient supply of immigration judges and detention facilities, and a current backlog of over 680,000 pending immigration cases and an average wait of 1,054 days to be tried, illegal immigrants that get caught by ICE and are awaiting deportation are often released from custody. This process serves as a magnet for illegal immigrants who know that once they make it across the border, even if they get caught, they will likely be realeased from custody and then can avoid their deportation hearings and proceedings.  

On March 30th, The DOJ laid out new rules in an email to immigration judges that starting October 1, 2018, they will be required to complete at least 700 cases per year to be assessed “satisfactory performance,” among other specific benchmarks to speed up judicial proceedings. This should expedite deportation proceedings and lower the backlog, but it also creates the risk of violating due process for people who may be eligible to remain in the US legally. To effectively end catch and release and the illegal immigration magnet it causes, Congress must allocate funds for the DOJ to hire a substantial amount of additional immigration judges in order to expedite immigration related hearings and eliminate the backlog of immigration cases.

The use of the Senate’s nuclear option to lower the votes required to pass legislation from 60 to 51, in order to hastily pass new laws, is unnecessary and risky. Using the nuclear option now could have unintended consequences in the future, and any laws passed by Republicans in this manner would likely be repealed or counteracted if Democrats gain simple majority control of the Senate.

However, the problematic situation of catch and release, the illegal immigration magnet it causes, and the extensive backlog of immigration cases that will take years to correct even with the hiring of additional judges, clearly demonstrates the importance and need for improved border security to stop the entry of illegal immigrants into the US.  

Although the president said “NO MORE DACA DEAL!,” a DACA deal may still be the best and fastest way to get Congress to allocate adequate funding for the border security that our country needs as soon as possible. If Republicans and Democrats in Congress can float a bill that would simply extend legal status for DACA recipients and allocate enough money to help secure our borders, it would be supported by most Americans and have a decent chance of becoming law.

Instead of pointing fingers and giving up on working with Congress to legislate a permanent solution for DACA that includes funding for border security, the president should continue to work with lawmakers to float a much needed immigration bill that can pass. To abandon all efforts to legalize DREAMers when over 80% of Americans favor granting them work permits would not only be a disappointing act of injustice, but could also have a negative impact at the polls for whomever voters choose to blame. Then again, Trump has also urged Congress to craft a “bill of love” and said he would sign any immigration bill that protects DREAMers and secures the border that the Senate passes with 60 votes; so his recent tweets condemning DACA may just be a hard ball in the art of deal making. 

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